Posted by Abz on Fri, 03 Apr 2009.
Alex Vargas (vocals/acoustic guitar)
Stephen Carter (guitar)
Luke Fitton (guitar)
Sam Odiwe (bass)
Karl Penney (drums)
Single-Sweat (Until The Morning)-Out 8th June 2009
Album-You Don't Know The Half Of It-Out 22nd June 2009
The write ups for Vagabond have been extremely good, with gems such as:
“There may be countless bands vying for attention in 2009, but Vagabond need not worry. In Alex Vargas they have a bold and ardent front-man, a cross between Michael Hutchence and Bryan Ferry, with a voice that holds a secret plan for world domination. Musically, they flit between earthy, soulful pop and synth-tinged rock”
With phrases like that we simply couldn’t pass up an opportunity to interview them! Vagabond, a five-piece from Uruguay, Denmark, East London and Huddersfield have just signed to the newly revived Geffen label, with the backing of Xenomania, the songwriting team behind Girls Aloud. We caught up with them on tour with James Morrison, at their Nottingham gig.
Abz: OK, we’ve been following the reviews of your gigs and they’ve all had brilliant write ups, so congrats on those!
Abz: To start with could you let us know about how Vagabond started out, and how you got together?
Alex: It all started out in a studio in Kent where I was working with our Producer working on material and met Steve and Luke down there, and that was the basis, that was Vagabond basically. We started doing some acoustic shows, kept working hard and eventually found Karl who was recommended to us. We met Sam while touring with another band who he was playing for.
James: Was it an instant friendship / band chemistry?
Alex: Yeah, it’s been great!
Luke: I think we’ve been very lucky, very fortunate.
Alex: It works socially as well as musically.
Luke: It’s a good dynamic within the group, when we first went on the tour we went out with some of the other bands, and that’s where we met Sam obviously, and we got on so well. You have to get on with each other because you spend a lot of time together, more off stage then on, so that’s important. There’s a good vibe in the band, it’s like when we were working at Xenomania (which has an amazing atmosphere), it just worked and the attitude grew from there, and of course you do tend to stand out if you don’t get on with people!
Abz: Your first Acoustic gig was something like 6 months ago, that can’t be right can it?
Steve: No, it’s about a year ago.
Alex: Yeah, a year ago sounds about right.
Luke: Yes, we did a lot of low key stuff.
Steve: Yeah it was April May last year.
James: It sounds like you’ve been together for more then a year!
Luke: A lot of people seem to say that, but that might be because we pretty much play everyday
Alex: Yes, we’ve been working really hard in the studio, doing gigs. But thanks saying that!
Abz: How’s it been going in the studio for you with your album?
Alex: Well, it’s going very well, enjoying it, and to be honest, there isn’t much recording left to do now. After this tour, there’s like a week before we go to the states to shoot our second video, and doing some work there.
Steve: All the basic tracks are down now, it’s just overdubs of things like backing vocals.
Alex: Yes, it’s just the final touches really, it’s production and mixing.
Abz: You’ve got great reviews, and are hotly tipped as “The” up and coming band to do well. Does that add more pressure?
Sam: We just have to be ourselves really and give everything we have at our performances. Giving 100% is what we do. It doesn’t matter if there are 10, 20, 100, 1000 or more there to see us.
Luke: And there will be people there who haven’t really heard of you before.
Sam: So we’re hoping that the “hottest thing” tag…
Luke: Yes, we want people to have a reason to say that.
Alex: It’s obviously a huge compliment that a lot of people have been saying that, but even if they didn’t we would still want to give it our all, make the same effort no matter what.
Steve: There are a lot of bands that get hyped up by certain magazines and journalists and so on, and then you never hear of them again so, you can’t let it get to your head. And it is amazing to hear that though.
Luke: But it can be the kiss of death sometimes too! (laughing)
Steve: Yes, you can’t get carried away with that!
Abz: Do you think that those accolades are because you cover quite a few genres?
Sam: It definitely widens our appeal.
Steve: And we’re all into different types of music and it shows, not just on the record but in our live performances too. I don’t know if you can hear it but there is a slightly different vibe when we’re plying live though, so that’s our personalities coming through with the music that we like. And it helps to have these different influences too. Maybe some who are into “I’ve Been Wanting You” which is a bit Killers, or synth pop, and that vein of things, may not be into an out and out pop track like “Don’t Wanna Run No More” which is at the other end of the spectrum, but there’s still those great hooks.
Alex: They’re still tie really nicely to each other though, we keep it soulful, and the production that Brian at Xenomania is doing is fantastic.
Luke: Yeah they like to (nearly chokes on food, everybody else is laughing) *cough*, as I was saying, they like to get the best out of you as producers, and Brian is so driven and likes to try new ideas. He makes you re-learn what’s worth playing in some ways which is good, he had me trying allsorts of different things out, it’s good to get out of your comfort zone from time to time!
Abz: Could you tell us a bit about your music writing process?
Alex: They tend to be done traditionally, you know, guitars and vocals sit down, you find your pace, but, then there’s a much more, a way that I’ve learnt that is much more productive, you lay down a backing track. You get a track ready, you blast it out of speakers, you have a Dictaphone, and I’ll sing over that, trying out different ideas. Looking for varying melodies. It could literally just be a 4 bar drum loop.
Steve: “I Know a Girl” was written over a 4 bar bass and drum loop.
Alex: Yeah it was just a really simple idea, and after that you go back and listen to the melodies again and pick out the best ones. Quite often you find the best ones come out in a string, and you can find yourself taking something from the beginning and something from the very end, and they’ll fit perfectly well together. It was quite intimidating when I first did it, it’s a really interesting, really productive way of writing. And the results, well’ we’re really happy with it. Definitely be doing it again!
Sam: And of course you tend to go back and then re-do the backing behind it, and look at the music itself again.
Luke: It may not be a traditional way, but it works for us.
Steve: Yeah, Xenomania is kind of about “stepping outside” and looking at things in different ways, and encouraging you to be creative in every way, as opposed to just maybe sitting at a piano, which may well work for others. Some of our songs will have like five or six different versions, different chord progressions, before settling on the final version.
James: So you end up being more selective and savage with your choice of what works?
Steve: Absolutely, yes.
Luke: Very very brutal.
Abz: How would you describe your music?
Luke: Soulful pop music, but it’s pop in the sense of good strong songs and performances, we like the soul element, there’s a lot of things around and we hope we offer a more refreshing sound.
Alex: We’re a very ambitious band too, we want to be around for a long time, and go a long way. We enjoy supporting people like James Morrison because obviously his crowds are fantastic and his fans great, but obviously we want to develop ourselves. So in 5 years we would want to be moving on from doing the support role, and if we haven’t done that then something has gone wrong along the way. If we can’t fill big venues….well, I guess we’re just reaching for the skies.
James: Aiming for the moon so that if you miss you’ll land amongst the stars. Well that was my moment of cheesy zen anyway.
Luke: (to Alex) Write that down!
Abz: You’re hoping that touring with James Morrison will help though?
Luke: Absolutely, I think it’ll help get us to the next stage. We were playing to smaller audiences, so this tour will get us in front of a bigger crowd.
Sam: Yes, this exposes us to the masses I guess, and then after this we’ll go on and do our own headline tour at smaller venues, and hopefully those who saw us at the James Morrison gig will want to come and see us at our own shows.
James: The small impromptu gig you did in the Underground, is that going to be a regular thing?
Alex: Well, we did that they day after as well, outside the Royal Albert Hall. Which went great, but then we got stopped by one of the bouncers! He was chasing Luke around..and erm, we got into a bit of trouble doing that, and we’ve been banned from doing that (laughs).
Luke: Maybe we’ll do it again.
Steve: It makes it more exciting if you do it sporadically as opposed to doing an acoustic session outside after every gig.
Alex: It’ll happen when it happens.
Sam: It was a great experience.
Luke: Yeah it was brilliant. The response was really good as well, terrific fans!
Steve: I think it’s good they can see we can pull it off with just two acoustics guitars too.
James: So you’re not just a studio band then?
Luke: Far from it, we’re much a live band, we want to gig anywhere and everywhere who’ll have us!
James and Abz: Thank you very much for your time, you’ve been great!
Steve, Luke, Alex, Karl, Sam: Thank you too!
We would like to thank Vagabond, Warren, Jenn and Holly for their invaluable time and this interview!